What Birthmothers and Empty Nesters Have in Common

What Birthmothers and Empty Nesters Have in Common
Liz West/Creative Commons

When a mother gives birth, she empties herself of her child. The baby begins a new life outside of the mother’s body, but still close to her, still relying on her for food and nurture. The mother’s body is empty, but her arms are full.

In adoption, the woman who carries the child will not be the same woman who cares for the child. By giving birth and placing her child in the arms of another family, a birthmother empties more than just her body. She empties her nest.

Recently I was introduced to a podcast by the Boston NPR station, WBUR. The station partners with The New York Times to broadcast its column “Modern Love,” which the newspaper describes as a series that highlights the “joys and tribulations of love.”

The episode I listened to featured an essay by birthmother Amy Seek, titled “Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math.” This quote has stuck with me:

During [the months before I gave birth], my son’s mother, Holly, observed that birthmothers have to accomplish in one day the monumental task of letting go that most parents have 18 years to figure out.”

If other parents are like mine, I think it’s fair to say they dread yet relish the day their children will leave the house. Moving out is the ultimate transition to adulthood. Parents, I’ve observed, feel sad but proud when their little birdies fly away. The time for direct oversight is over (perhaps insert a sigh of relief here), but the absence of it may leave parents wondering what to do now. What will their relationship with their child become? How can parents still have a role without actively parenting?

Birthmothers have these same questions, but as the adoptive mother of Seek’s son observed, we begin these questions at the start of our infant’s life, instead of at the start of his or her adult life.

Parents typically become empty nesters as part of the natural process of a child’s growth. A birthmother, however, acquires an empty nest in the most unnatural of ways — not by nudging her fledgling out of the nest, but by bestowing the new chick into the nest of another momma bird.

But in both cases, mothers and fathers are left without their children. I wonder how this phenomenon affects adoptive parents and birth parents once the child turns 18? My hope is that they see the new commonality of an empty nest as another opportunity to bond over the love of the child.


Do you think Seek’s son’s adoptive mother made an accurate observation? In what ways do you think empty nesters and birthmothers are similar or dissimilar when it comes to letting go of their children? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

4 thoughts on “What Birthmothers and Empty Nesters Have in Common

  1. I was eager to help my first two children go and spread their little kindergarten wings. But with my youngest, I hold on until she wriggles free. I’m nervous I’ll hold on too tight when it’s my turn at “empty nesting”.

    • Emily

      I think there might be something about the youngest child growing up that induces a sense of finality in parents. At least that’s what I’ve heard from other mothers. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Clarissa.

  2. My nest was empty before my daughters grew up. Their dad and I had divorced, and after a couple of years, he wanted physical custody of them. They wanted to go. And I would have been the “meanest mother on earth” and he would have been “wonderful dad” had I not let them go. That was the most difficult thing I’d ever done. After the initial shock and a few months had passed, I realized the empty-nest times interspersed with the weekend-mom times were okay. I began to enjoy both times. xoA

    • Emily

      Annis, thank you for sharing some of your story. I’m sorry your nest was emptied so prematurely. That sounds like it was a very tough situation. I’m glad you were able to make the best of it, though I’m sure it was still painful for you. Hugs.

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